My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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Fear Of The Unknown

 

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We all know what it feels like.  That feeling that there’s a secret that’s lurking in our bodies.  That dread that what can’t be seen or felt or known is hiding inside of us.  It’s inescapable.  The fear of the unknown.

I went for my three month checkup with my oncologist last week.  This was the longest separation I had experienced from her since the year and half I was diagnosed.   It was a routine appointment without incident.  I had questions about some side effects of the new medication I would be starting.  But my last question was about recurrence.

“How will I know if it comes back before I’m symptomatic?”  I asked because at my cancer center, they do not do blood tests for cancer markers.

Her answer was, “Well, we won’t know until you show symptoms like a cough without a cold or a persistent headache that won’t go away.  Then we’ll do some tests.”  And that’s it.  That’s all they can do.

I understand and even agree with the reason why they don’t do blood tests for cancer markers at my hospital.  My oncologist said that it hasn’t been the recommendation since 2006 and she and the hospital fully support that recommendation.  She said that this test creates too many false positives.  False positives result in testing which contain radiation.  Why would we want to subject our bodies to more radiation than is necessary?  Then, if there’s a false positive and we don’t see anything, we have to test again to see if anything changes in the next few months.  Then, how are we spending the next few months?  We are spending it filled with anxiety and fear over what might be happening in our bodies.  And that’s no way to live.

“But what if something is growing?  Don’t we want to know about it sooner rather than later,” I asked?

“It doesn’t matter if we catch it when it is small or when it has caused symptoms.  We don’t treat any differently.  You get the same treatment.  And early detection at stage four has not shown to affect or alter the length of survival,” she informed me.

So, what that means is, I could have a small dot in my brain and if we catch it early, we could treat it and I could die in a year. Or not.  But if we catch later, I’d get the same treatment and I could still die in a year.  Or not.

I spoke to my therapist about this recently.  I described it as like having a piano hanging over my head ready to plummet at any time.  It may never drop or it might snap after the slightest breeze.  Anything can happen.  We can never predict or know for sure.

And that’s terrifying.

But this is it.  This is how I live the rest of my life.  This is the gift that cancer has presented me.  A life of uncertainty.  I fear not knowing what is happening in my body.  The fear of not knowing what the next day will bring.  Because I understand that life can change in an instant. So I live afraid.  I live fearing the unknown.

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Motherhood Mondays: Dealing With Sadness

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I am, by nature, a person of extremes.  When I’m happy, I’m really, really happy.  When I’m sad, I can really get down in the dumps and think the worst.  I don’t do anything half ass and I do emotions all the way.  But still, nothing has compared to the sadness and, dare I say it, depression I felt when I was first diagnosed.  It was so encompassing of my body, I was not sure I could care for Oliver.

Here is what I experienced as a result of being diagnosed with cancer.  These feelings and symptoms(?) lasted two weeks until I got a complete diagnosis.

  1. Constant crying (constant!!!)
  2. Shaking or trembling
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Trouble sleeping (well, I could fall asleep but I’d wake up by 5:00 am)
  5. Dark, dark, dark thoughts
  6. Unable to get out of bed or off the floor
  7. Apathy
  8. Loss of focus

I have experienced some of these things as a result of sadness or fear before but never all at the same time and I found that particularly frightening.  I was most worried about Oliver seeing me like this so I went to see a therapist.  

I think talking to someone who was objective helped because I knew he had my best interest in mind but never sugar coated anything.  When I would tell friends or family my fears of dying or losing my breasts or chemotherapy, they would try to make me feel better.  Of course they did!  Why shouldn’t they?  That’s exactly what I would do for them.  But it wasn’t helping.  A therapist just listened and nodded and often repeated my fears back to me.  I felt acknowledged.  The fears did not go away but I felt heard.  

My depression did not end that day but I think it helped me to be a little less fearful and more present on each day, each moment and each piece of information I received about my sickness.  And when I became more equipped to handle these extreme emotions, I stopped crying in front of my son, began playing with him again and getting back into our routine.

I am far from expert in dealing with any kind of depression and would never, EVER give any advice, at least at this point.  I think it’s just important to acknowledge that this happened to me because it is likely that it will happen again sometime in this year of hell.  I think I’m going to be sad and scared a lot.  But I’m also still going to be a mom and I have to figure out how I can do both.